A Fully Leaded Experience

The Storm Trysail Club's Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta offers a chance for collegiate sailors to try their hands at big-boat racing

College Guide 2005
Stuart Streuli

Jeff Lamont kicked off the summer of 2004 by driving a Farr 40 in the New York YC's 150th Annual Regatta, winning the first race. In late September he sailed in the Mumm 30 Worlds in Toronto, his hand again firmly on the helm. Lamont, however, looks nothing like your stereotypical big-boat skipper with graying temples, a slight paunch, and an extremely healthy bank account. He is 21 years old, completing his final year at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Last October, to find out where he stood against his peers-with limited sail budgets and no money for pro sailors, the academy teams don't often challenge the top Farr 40 or Mumm 30 programs-he and two dozen teammates traveled to the Storm Trysail Club's 2004 Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta in Larchmont, N.Y. "We're hoping we're more at their level," said Lamont two days before the regatta. "We're very much looking forward to it." For obvious reasons-primarily expense and logistics-big-boat racing isn't a large part of the college sailing experience. In fact, many sailors on top-ranked teams graduate without ever having wrapped a line around a winch in collegiate competition. Schools that have big-boat programs, such as the Coast Guard, Naval, and Merchant Marine academies, do most of their offshore racing in regional open regattas. Of course, this presents some unique opportunities. Lamont's regular mainsheet trimmer, Andrew Czarniak, of Clifton, Va., enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy having never sailed before. "I sailed three regattas on a Luders 44 my freshman fall," he says, "sailed J/22s my freshman spring, then did the Bermuda Race." That's heady stuff for an 18-year-old. But, like any college student, the Coast Guard keelboat sailors yearn to test their skills against other college sailors and possibly knock off one or two of the more famous dinghy programs that clutter the top of Sailing World's college rankings. So events like Storm Trysail's, along with the smattering of collegiate big-boat competitions held in the Naval Academy's 44-foot training sloops, hold a special appeal. The Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta was created three decades ago by the Corinthians, an association of amateur yachtsmen founded in the 1934. The organization's members donated their boats and then stayed on board to act as safety officers and help with the sailing. This level of outside assistance is unique in college sailing, but the regatta was more about introducing college sailors to big-boat sailing than proving which team was the most proficient. The Storm Trysail Club took ownership of the event in 2001, after it had sat dormant for two years, and until this year it had never pulled in more than a dozen entries. Regatta chairman Adam Loory took it upon himself to change that in 2004, eschewing any handicap scoring for a level format that he knew college sailors, who always race one-design, would find appealing. Loory pulled in nearly 30 boats in three different classes: J/109s and J/120s, J/35s and Express 37s, and J/105s. The response was immediate as 29 teams from 20 schools signed up. The usual suspects were represented-the Coasties sent down two J/35s and four teams, U.S. Merchant Marine and New York Maritime each entered a pair of teams. But also present were dinghy-oriented teams like Tufts, Michigan, and Georgetown-despite the fact that the regatta doesn't factor into the college rankings and comes right in the middle of the busy fall schedule. "I'm a fan of the dinghies," says Todd Breeden, a sophomore at Georgetown who manned the mast for the weekend. "But I love getting out on the big boats and applying my skills to a different aspect of sailing." The Georgetown team took this regatta seriously. They brought nearly every male sailor on the dinghy team, according to Breeden, and filled two boats. One team, led by skipper Ed du Moulin, the son of Storm Trysail Commodore Rich du Moulin, arrived on Friday afternoon before the regatta to practice on the du Moulin's Express 37 Lora Ann. They were back at it the next morning, as all the teams were required to spend Saturday morning learning the boats. Some took to their rides faster than others and, once the racing began in a 6- to 10-knot southerly, the time spread among the fleets was quite large in some races. In two of the three fleets, the form didn't change much between the first and last races of the day; Georgetown dominating the Express 37 and J/35 division while Navy took control of the J/109 and J/120 class. The exception was in the J/105 fleet where seven of 11 teams had at least one top-three finish on the first day. Among those was Lamont and his Coast Guard team on Tony Leggett's Conundrum. After struggling in the early races, including being over early in Race 2, Lamont's crew won the final race and finished the day 8 points out of first, but only 2 points out of second. "That was great, especially for the last race of the day," he said after the day of racing. "Everyone was pretty tired at that point." Lamont, an American citizen whose parents currently live in Petersfield, England, wasn't a super keen racing sailor when he arrived at the Coast Guard Academy, but his experience on the water put him ahead of many of the first-year students who signed up for the big-boat program. The majority are like Czarniak, with little or no experience. Molding neophytes into offshore sailors isn't an easy project and the Coast Guard's J/35s, chock full of first-year cadets, struggled to keep pace with the other teams in Division 2. Gaining the tactical instincts that come so quickly when sailing 10 to 15 dinghy races a day, five days a week, is also difficult, says Lamont. But the allure of sailing on top-flight designs such as the Coast Guard's two Mumm 30s or Farr 40, or even the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's 80-foot maxi Hercules (see "Collegiate Lead Mining," p. 31), is starting to draw more talented sailors. "I feel like since we've been here, the program has gained a lot of momentum," says Lamont. "This was the first year we had people with experience that didn't go straight into the dinghy program." This is music to the ears of Storm Trysail officers like Loory and du Moulin. "One of the most important goals for the club," says du Moulin, "is to bring young people into big-boat and ocean racing." If there was ever a day when one could fall in love with big-boat racing it was the second day of the STC's regatta. An overcast, muggy morning gave way to spectacular sunshine and a light northerly that faded after one race, backed a little, and returned at a perfect 10 to 15 knots. With a day of practice, the crewwork was noticeably better across the board and the racing more competitive. Though none of the first-day leaders were threatened, even the tailenders came ashore will big smiles. The Duke University team, which brought an army of 13 to sail on Jan Smeet's J/120 Bacchinal, finished seventh of eight boats in Division 1. "We were a little heavy for our division," says Doug Mullen, a senior from Farmington, Conn. "But the fleet overall was tight. I think big-boat sailing is great just because of the teamwork and the team spirit that's present. There's always a lot of stories that come out of these regattas." Smeets, who was hosting the Duke team for the second year, was equally as pleased with the weekend. "They said it was going to be a lot of fun," he says, referring to Loory and others who recruit volunteer boat owners, "and they didn't lie. The kids really enjoy it." For Lamont, any chance of winning the regatta went down the drain with a 10th in the first race, but his team rebounded for a third in the final race and when the Tufts squad accepted a 4-point arbitration penalty resulting from an incident in that race, they squeaked into third, 1 point ahead of Tufts and New York Maritime. "I feel like we should've done better," he says. "We were maybe not quite polished enough in race tactics." But Lamont had found an answer for the primary question he carried to the regatta. "We had the boatspeed and boathandling to hang with the best." For that opportunity, especially considering the mix of top dinghy and big-boat teams present, he was thankful. "It's a great thing," he says, "that the owners are willing to donate their boats and sail with a bunch of 20-year-olds." Thank us, say some of the owners, by coming to race with us. "Getting good big-boat crews is tricky," says Express 37 owner Bob Behringer, who sailed in the Corinthians regatta when he was a student at Bates College in the late '70s and early '80s. "It's hard to find people. Dinghy experience is good, but you need to learn to handle a big boat." Loory did have one favor to ask of participants. "Spread the word," he said at the awards ceremony. While it isn't easy to convince owners to donate their boat-"I drag them kicking and screaming a little bit into the event," says Loory, "but then they come back the next year because it's so much fun"-he'd like to see the event hit 35 boats this coming October, maybe 40 if they can add another division. That request shouldn't be too hard to accommodate. "It's just a great event," says Ben Van Dam, a senior at the University of Michigan, which finished second to Georgetown in the Express 37 and J/35 division. "You can't describe how much better the competition is this year. I really feel the more teams, the merrier. If we could get some of those other big East Coast schools and even some West Coast schools, it would be better for everybody."